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Common job interview questions

Give yourself a head start in your next job interview by reading our guide to five common interview questions – and how to answer them.

In some ways, an interview is like an exam where the main subject is you. Meaning that – just like an exam – you’ll stand a much better chance of success if you do some revision first.

Employers will want you to talk in detail about specific things you've done that are relevant to the job. Take another look at your CV and application form, as you will be probably be asked about some of the skills and experience you’ve mentioned there. Re-read the job description on the job advert, and prepare some examples of times at school or in any other jobs you’ve had when you displayed any skills like ‘teamworking’ or ‘problem solving’ the employers want. Do some research into the company as well, since they might ask what you know about them. You can find more advice on preparing for an interview in our articles Interview tips and tricks and Landing that dream job.

Of course, you can’t plan your answer to every question beforehand, but doing some research will prepare you for any tricky ones the interviewers throw at you. However, while every interview will have different questions depending on the job you're going for, there are some questions that come up a lot.

Tell us about yourself

This is a common first question, but employers don’t want your complete life story. Keep your answer down to about two minutes and tell them things like what subjects you’re studying, previous jobs you’ve had and any other relevant experience. You can also mention some of your hobbies as long as they’re relevant – for example, it’s worth telling them you like swimming if you compete in events as this shows dedication; if you just go to the baths to play on the water slides then leave that out.

Why do you want this job?

Employers want to know that you understand the job and will be committed to it, so whatever you do don’t just say ‘because I need the money’. Express an interest in what the job involves, and give examples of things to back this up. For example, if you’re going for a job as a receptionist and have previously worked in a cafe, you could say ‘I really enjoyed dealing with customers in my last job, so would like another role where I can help people face-to-face and on the phone.’ You could mention how much you enjoy studying certain subjects if they’re related to the job e.g PE if you’re going for a job in a sportswear store. This is also a good time to mention any work experience or volunteering you’ve done, and what you gained from that.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

This question is designed to see if you’ve got the right skills for the job. For your strengths, look at the job description and think about things you’re good at that match these skills. For example, if the job description says you must be ‘good under pressure’, you could say that you always meet deadlines and are determined to get work done on time, and give some examples.

Naming your weaknesses is more difficult, as you don’t want to talk about negative things too much, but no employer will believe you if you say ‘none.’ The best approach is to talk about something that used to be a problem, and the steps you took to overcome it. So, for example, you could say ‘I used to have problems managing my time, but now I use a weekly planner to prioritise what I need to do.’

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Ambition and dedication are very important to employers and – unless it’s a temporary job – no-one wants to hire someone they think is going to leave next week.

Employers will be looking for proof that you have a plan for your career, and have thought about how this job will fit. So there’s no point telling them you want to be an astronaut if you’re applying for an office job. Instead, say something like ‘I would really like to get into a management position in this sector, and think that the skills I’ll gain in this job will help me achieve that’.

Although you don’t have to say you want to be working for the same company in five years time, don’t say that you want to be working for one of their competitors instead, or give the impression that this is only a ‘fill in’ job until you get something better.

Do you have any questions for us?

This is your chance to ask the interviewers any questions you have about the job, but is as much a chance for them to see if you want the job for the right reasons. So don’t ask them how much you’ll be paid or how much holiday you’ll get since this looks like you’re just in it for the money and are more concerned with your own free time than work.

The only thing worse than asking those questions is not to ask any at all, which gives the impression that you don’t really care. Questions about whether you will receive any training or the possibility of promotion are good, as this demonstrates that you want to do your best for the company. You could also ask questions about how many other people you’ll be working with, whether you’ll need to do any travel and other practical parts of the job. However, don’t automatically ask these questions if they’ve already been explained during the interview because it will look like you weren’t listening. If everything you want to know has already been answered earlier, you should say ‘I did have some questions, but I think everything has already been covered in the interview thanks.’

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